Glory Days

I've got a music problem. Specifically, I've got a rock music problem.

It's a true cliché—that is, a cliché that happens to be true: Rock music, in almost all its forms, is young people's music. It's about new, fresh experiences—new love, new sex, consciousness sought or attained, rebellion, drugs—and when you've reached a certain age, those experiences don't feel so fresh anymore. That's a fact about which it's hard not to feel some regret. You don't have to share their sentiment to realize that there's a reason Pete wrote, and Roger sang, "Hope I die before I get old."

Despite Pete and Roger's proclamation, only the drummer died young. But many other musicians have also done it: Buddy Holly. Ritchie Valens. Jim Morrison. Janis Joplin. Bob Marley. Otis Redding. Lowell George. Sid Vicious. Kurt Cobain. Amy Winehouse. Tupac Shakur. The Notorious B.I.G. (footnote 1). Today I got news that another great rock'n'roll drummer had died, although not young. Charlie Watts, bless him, lived a good, long life.

I can't think of a single example of a great rock musician who, late in life, has continued to make music as vital as the music they made when they were young. Some still make good music, but it's not the same—which is as it should be, because, again, rock is fundamentally music for the young.

In a recent email exchange, mastering engineer and Stereophile contributor Tom Fine wrote, "Seeing my old faves on geezer-reunion tours has never been the least bit appealing." Same here, though I'd probably put it in stronger terms. Yet there's never a shortage of geriatric rockers on nostalgia tours. I loved Styx when I was 14, I confess with shame. They have a new album out—God help us all. The Eagles, which I'm not ashamed of liking in my younger years, will be playing Madison Square Garden later this month. Today, August 8, Guns N' Roses is playing Detroit. They just released a single.

Lynyrd Skynyrd is on its 857-thousandth tour. It's unclear whether the tour will continue though, because Gary Rossington just had an emergency heart procedure; these things happen when you reach a certain age. Alleged longtime bandmember Rickey Medlocke recently got COVID—another reason for the band not to tour (as if a reason was needed). I own at least 10 vinyl copies of Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd, and I listen to them often. But I regret what the band has become.

Some members of Lynyrd Skynyrd did die young, famously, and others came close. But their early songs are about survival, learning lessons from hard living, self-preservation, regret about dangerous behavior: "Give Me Three Steps"; "Saturday Night Special"; "The Needle and the Spoon." "That Smell" is about the Labor Day weekend accident when Rossington, drunk and high on Quaaludes, crashed his car into a tree. Bandmate Allen Collins had a separate, serious accident the same weekend. Then they wrote a song together expressing regret. Just over a year later, a plane crashed, killing Ronnie Van Zant and Steve and Cassie Gaines and injuring the rest of the band. Nine years later, Collins would be paralyzed in another car accident. His girlfriend was killed.

Maybe rock'n'roll is just one of those things you have to give up when you get old, like dating, sex, and size-34 jeans. My partial answer is jazz, recorded and played live. While many jazz musicians (especially trumpet players) died way too young, others remain musically vital well into old age. Marshall Allen, formerly of the Sun Ra Arkestra, plays Smalls on August 20. He's 97.

Here's my difficulty: I'm not ready to give up rock'n'roll.

For years I did okay. Every few years, I'd find a new band to love. I loved Picaresque by the Decemberists—clever chamber rock with fun wordplay—but I've liked nothing by them since. I consider Radiohead one of the all-time great bands, but I discovered them when I was still in my 30s. I don't recall truly loving a single rock album, by any band, since Amnesiac.

I try, but I haven't been successful. Much of it seems soulless, passionless, derivative. I'm open to new sounds—eager for them—and yet the new bands and musicians I like best tend to emulate past styles. (Not Greta Van Fleet: They don't so much emulate Led Zep as violate them.) One problem with many of these records is that they just don't sound very good: Would someone please take away their reverb?

Part of the problem, I'm sure, is that young people themselves have changed: How can you relate to the music if you can't relate to the musicmakers? I know that every generation says that about the generations that follow, but this time it's true.

Here's a list of music I've discovered during the last few weeks that, well, I haven't hated. Turnstile's Glow On isn't bad. I like "Sad But True," St. Vincent's Metallica take. "Coal Black Mattie" by the Black Keys is serious hard-rockin' electric blues, but the sound is a bit rowdy. Monster Magnet rocks out on A Better Dystopia, but the music is derivative, the lyrics are inane, and the recording isn't great. Punk-rockers AFI have been mellowing lately: "Dulceria," from their 11th album, Bodies, would have been a big hit circa 1985. There be hooks here.

Speaking of the '80s: The Linda Lindas are basically an '80s band making music in the 2020s—except that none of them were even alive in the 1980s. Or the 1990s. As of May 2021, the oldest member in the band was 16. The youngest—Maya, the drummer—was 10. "Oh!," released in July, reminds me of Missing Persons. It's pure joy. Perhaps rock'n'roll skips a generation.

Send your new rock music recommendations to stletters@stereophile.com. Please put "New Rock Music" in the subject line.


Footnote 1: I'm excluding, for example, John Lennon, who died at the relatively ripe age of 40.

COMMENTS
CG's picture

I'll offer another possibility of why, perhaps, recent rock isn't as appealing to people over (pick the age).

At one time, the target medium was 45's, either played through a small console/record player or through an AM radio. The engineering and mastering was targeted toward those devices. Later, the target was LP's played on somewhat modest home "stereos". That and via cassettes in cars. Fast forward, and the target is now through personal devices and headphones.

The people who did the engineering for all those recordings knew and know exactly what they needed to do to make the music sound most appealing - and sellable - through those devices. See, for example, the so-called Loudness Wars.

Not being snooty here - just saying that rock music engineered for playing on 70's vintage systems may not be a good match for a 21st century system. Music destined for a market of fans listening through earbuds may not sound great at all when played through the kinds of systems Stereophile readers listen to.

So, even accepting all the changes in the listeners as they age, there still is a technology boundary that you're trying to cross. May not be realistic.

In addition, an awful lot of modern rock was created by people in various parts of the world and spliced together by somebody someplace else. Often individual parts of a single song are a composite of dozens if not hundreds snippets taken from a zillion takes. So, if you're expecting to hear what you think the performers would sound like if they played in your room, forget it! That's not the artist's intent.

Personally, I've taken a different approach. Rather than worry about the newest music, I explore music that is new to me. I didn't grow up listening to Big Band music - my parents did. There's a lot of great stuff that I'm finding exciting to listen to from that era. All new to me! There's more music that can be mined from the past, and even the very recent past, than I'll ever be able to listen to in my lifetime. So, that's what I trying now. YMMV, etc.

Ortofan's picture

... still fine by me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xd56ap_aa4k

MatthewT's picture

I have not heard from when I was a kid. I'll run out of time before I hear it all.

ednazarko's picture

Listen to Radio Paradise for a couple hours here and there. While they do play a deep list of old hits back into the 1950s, they also do a spectacular job of playing music released in the last few years, all in the same mix. Every time I listen, I "discover" at least one new artist - sometimes an artist from decades ago who I never heard before, but more often an artist who's at the beginning of their career.

That the music mix includes a healthy spread of music from the 1950s to 2021 says great things about the vitality of rock music.

Chick Korean's picture

"I can't think of a single example of a great rock musician who, late in life, has continued to make music as vital as the music they made when they were young."

*cough* Peter Gabriel *cough*

tcrik's picture

Leonard Cohen. Warren Zevon, John Prine

Jim Austin's picture

But: Rock Music?

Zevon is good, but has never been a favorite.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

...It became part of our daily lives.

We all heard it and wanted the record for our small collection.

Dual record changers were HighEnd. AM table radio was a standard home fixture for Base Ball Games, top 40 on the music Charts and Paul Harvey. --- fond memories ---

I'm pleased with where we've arrived at. I run my own little Radio Station commercial Free, 24/7 and no noisy DJ promotions.

Stereophile reviewers, Steve G., and others introduce Fresh New Music like Anna Von Hausswolff which gives up a seemingly endless stream of must haves.

We ( music lovers ) Won Life's Lottery when JA1 brought HFNRR's DNA to New Mexico.

Tony in Florida

tonykaz's picture

Well, we certainly have exciting Re-Masterings from Acoustic Sounds and the great Mr.Chad.

They seem to be a quasi re-living of our 1960s, 1970s,1980s youthful excitement that might have curtailed as we settled down to Career, Responsibility, Commitments, Family and health issues.

My parents loved the 1930s Broadway Musicals while cringing at Chubby Checker Twisting.

Today's youth have iPhone 21st Century music like what Starbucks sells of which I say: let em have it, it doesn't sing to me.

Tony in Florida

AaronGarrett's picture

I think rock hit its zenith and has been slowly dying since the early eighties. There's very little really novel -- compare Aphex Twin or the Wu Tang to any nineties rock act. Hip hop and electronic music took over and are still continually interesting and exciting. They too will die, and there will be something else interesting.

thethanimal's picture

Tool isn’t a new band, but they’re whippersnappers compared to the rockers that get the most press here. And if you want rock that gets better with age I think you’ll be hard pressed to find better. Full of angst and vulgarity in their youth, but trace their lyrical arc to today and you’ll find quite the emotional and, I daresay, moral arc. Musically you’ll need a calculator and a sextant to keep time: I’ll buy someone a beer if they can tell me the time signature of “Pneuma.” Of course the sound isn’t absolute and it’s not supposed to be, but you get layers, nuance, dynamics, and dedication to their craft.

ok's picture

..baby boomers' rock "revolution" (my ass, mere words) against a future that - first time ever and arguably last - looked bright ahead was always laughable. People come up with all kind of tricks in order to get laid - hence the term "rock and roll" in the first place. Music itself was fine though and some folks back there were actually serious.

btostenson's picture

GBV has been cranking stuff out for 30+ years, now. However, I think most artists have only so much good material in them which plays a bigger part than age. I'm sure some rock musicians that are fortunate enough to have a long career, mellow out with age and don't write or play the same music that they used to. The good thing it every year, there is a group like Wet Leg that comes around and gives us something fantastic to listen to!

Briandrumzilla's picture

Early Rock and Roll was indeed rebellious. We washed the Brylcreem out of our hair, grew it long, embraced new fashions and attitudes, and flipped off parents and the corporate world. A lot of great music came out of that era. Fast forward to current times, and some rebels from that era are still rebels and making music that displeases the corporate media. Rolling Stone mag and it’s well earned reputation for fake news and journalism malpractice, has embarked on a campaign to destroy and cancel the great Eric Clapton. Other medial outlets have published vicious negative stories about Van Morrison. Their crime, they dare to challenge the narrative so protected by the corporate media. Hell, “Let’s go Brandon” is currently a #1 song and won’t receive mainstream attention. Rock will survive and prosper but probably not in the way the corporate media likes. After all, their job is to crush and cancel those that dare challenge the narrative. My bet is on the rebels to save Rock.

AudioBang's picture

I like what I like and always had a narrow focus in terms of what moved my soul. Back then I despised corporate rock and most of what I heard on rock radio. At 59, looking back I still love The [70's] Who starting with Quadrophenia which empowered me during Jr High School days in terms of validating and holding to my own individuality vs. the perceived collective social fabric/onslaught of the times. It put a sense of "warrior" in me to offset my extreme amiability and insecurities. And for that, my sentiments remain timeless. Roger Daltry aptly described The Who as "fighting music" as I experienced with "The Dirty Jobs", "5:15", "The Real Me", "Dr Jimmy", and "The Punk Meets The Godfather"... Then the crowning achievement - the essence of Pete Townshend and connecting at the nature of our being or our soul level - "Is It In My Head" (or my heart?), "The Helpless Dancer", "Cut My Hair", "Love Reign O'er Me"...
Agreed, "Not so fresh anymore" as JA2 asserts, and often painful to experience when played live by a group of tired old[er] geezers.
But those recordings still stir my soul today.

And, while the recordings are not audiophile [and again, as JA2 points out, in many cases heavy-handed on the reverb], I still get a kick out of the phase tricks that were used on Who's Next, Fragile, Close To The Edge and other classics. The Rives Audio Test CD provides out-of-phase left and right channel test tracks which validate the tambourine at 0 degrees [the listener's right] on "Bargain" [Who's Next] and also Entwistle's vocal on "My Wife". The three differently positioned guitars [180 degrees-left, 0 degrees right and 60 degrees right] that open "Siberian Khatru" on Close To The Edge make an excellent calibration tool for determining level of smear in the system. It motivates me to keep tweaking to get it right. I got my upgraded Antipodes music server/player back several weeks ago and was listening to "Since I've Been Loving You" [Led Zep III 24/96] where the kick drum and bass pedals are positioned in the phantom center and the rest of the drum kit is out of phase right channel with spacing of each drum/cymbal outside of the right speaker. Today, I'm very interested in who was responsible for the soundstage that is [for many playback systems] hidden on these recordings and could the creators actually hear the phase information back in the day when the recordings were put together and played back prior to release? Did someone inadvertently hit a phase button on "My Wife" or was this intended? Are these inquiries to be made to the artist, or an Eddie Kramer or a Bob Ludwig? It remains fascinating to me and keeps the passion going.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Yes, those were the (glory) days !

"Hotel California" is still my timeless favourite. It was the 1978 Grammy Award for Record. No sweat !

So today my day off, I pull out the old LP titled: "Eagle Live" at Santa Monica Civil Auditorium July 29, 1980. Needless to say, I played it's first track: the famous rock song: "Hotel California". written by the rock band's original founders/partners: Don Felder (music) & Don Henley+late Glen Frey (lyrics).

WOW, it brought me back some 40 years the live performance of this original rock band into my humble basement audio den!! Don Henley's
boyish yet seductive voice was still there after 4 decades !!

Surprised to enjoy such lifelike recording from this 40+ year old LP !!

Jack L

Yeti 42's picture

Lemmy may have lost a few teeth by the time of Aftershock (by the sound of it) but the music was much the same all the way through, ever since he was kicked out of Hawkwind.
It might not have much hifi cred but it was still rock and roll to the end. If it sounds tame there’s something wrong with the system playing it (and there are quite a few that fail this test).

Trevor_Bartram's picture

In my case: hearing loss, lack of space for more media and my wife working from home has meant very little music has been played (and none purchased) in the last couple of years. Truth be told, I'd pretty much explored every genre and for years relied on WERS and NPR for new rock suggestions but even those were getting sparse.
In general I believe illegal streaming killed the music industry and caused the stores to close, so no more physical browsing and that took the fun out of purchasing music. And I like to read liner notes and I believe they have disappeared too.
It appears that a similar trend is afoot with the movie industry. Streaming and declining cinema ticket sales has caused the major studios to take fewer chances and the public suffers, as a result, with less choice. It appears with both music and movies we've brought these detrimental changes on ourselves.

Pittiplatsch's picture

was never dead, also if the Guardian was just writing this in the mid of 1990s. Please open your eyes and look / hear around and you will not find what you were exactly looking for but surely something more appealing in rock music world. To the topic: Clearly the world is changing and with this also the audiences. Rock music is, like other genres, to a certain degree also a feeling and attitude. So you can ask yourself if you are still ready for this challenge. If personal mentality is not fitting to the music, then you have certainly some problems with adapting to new directions in rock, independent of your age and sound equipment budgets. Sometimes less is more.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Out of curiosity, what is the "new direction in rock" ?

Being an old schooler, rock music is not my top favourite music though I stil keep some LPs of the old timer rocks, e.g. The Beatles, the Eagles,
the Beach Boys etc.

Jack L

Pittiplatsch's picture

Hello Jack, the best way is always to discover with you own ears if you like ;-) My suggestion is to choose an adequate radio station available for you and dedicated to the introduction of new music, regardless if FM or internet. For my location, I use among others byte.fm , a German-based internet radio (non-commercial and no mainstream) with headquarters in Hamburg and Berlin. The programme is made by musicians, DJs and professional music journalists mostly on voluntary basis. The scope is seen from my point quite broad, not only concentrating on rock music, So you have the possiblity to explore what is going on, especially "hinter dem großen Teich". Two minus: the language is not english, however music involvement is not depending on comments. Sound quality is with 128 K of the free stream far from hi-rez (the radio makers promised improvements but..., for members at least an 192 kbit stream is available) but with a suitable rig of headphones with appropriate DAC en passant listening is possible to enjoy. So, good luck!

p.s. my listening recommendations not only for old schoolers: PJ Harvey's 2016 album "The hope six demolition project"(alternative and indie rock) or Teenage Fanclub's 1991 album "Bandwagonesque" (Curt Cobain mentioned the band as his all time-favourite)

It Goes to Eleven's picture

You know, I read a quote from Rob Halford recently somewhere. He said, “when you’re young, you think rock is a young person’s adventure. You think maybe 50 is pushing it,” he says at 20 years past that, but he doesn’t ever want it to stop. He wishes he could keep doing it for the next 50 years just the same, and it’s going to take a medical emergency on stage to finally put an end to that.

I’m 22. I sure as hell like to believe (and probably delude myself) that rock, metal, and punk are the music of young people. However, if I’m being completely honest, I know that’s kind of a lie now. It would be more accurate to say it was the music of the Boomers/Gen X. That isn’t to say no young people are fans—I’m right here—but then, there have been new fans of other older genres going back all the way. I’m going to lay out a few points that will make it pretty clear that rock is now the music of an older generation, predominantly.

1) Look at the language. To me, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, KISS, Deep Purple, etc. is just all rock/hard rock/heavy metal. Nowadays even bands from the 90s are considered “classic” —ugh—rock. I kind of hate when people use that word, bit of a pet peeve of mind. When I hear “classic” rock I think Chuck Berry, Elvis, maybe early Beatles. All the music that sounds “modern” to me is, let’s face it, 30-40 years old, and even if you were in your diapers when it was new, it would mean you’re already old enough to be a middle-aged parent. But the issue isn’t just that all of the most beloved/revered bands today are ones from generations past, it’s that...

2) Most of the “new” bands are just recycled, derivative shadows of the true innovators they merely imitate. They’re not outright bad, as there are tons of very talented/competent musicians out there in these barely-not cover bands. The thing is, whenever I try to find “new” music in a genre, 665 times out of 666, they will probably sound like a cliche imitation of an old favorite. Call it the Greta Van Fleet syndrome. It’s the musical representative of the lazy, cash-grab reboot culture which has unfortunately permeated Hollywood for at least a decade. (Edit: While I don’t think these bands are “lazy,” or anything less than diehard fans, it takes more than pure worship (which itself is never good anyway) to turn that love and respect into something new that following generations can equally look up to.)

3) Even the small handful that don’t fall into category 2) can’t really be called “new” bands. I recently discovered the guitar virtuoso Tosin Abasi from instrumental djent group Animals as Leaders. This guy is absolutely incredible (as is the other guitarist in the group), I’d go as far as to call him the modern day Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen. However, perhaps more importantly than pure flashiness, is his ability to turn these remarkable new sounds and techniques into an absolutely captivating, beautiful, and completely new kind of rock (to my ears). Just when I had given up hope on hearing something new, here comes this totally novel sound...for 2006. As much as I hate to admit it, the 2000s are now starting to kind of become old too. Abasi is an older millennial now in his 40s, and he’s received enough mainstream attention to warrant his own signature custom guitar from major companies, and he’s toured amongside other rock titans like Zakk Wylde. And he’s been playing guitar about as long as I’ve been alive. Other prominent 21st century groups like Five Finger Death Punch and Avenged Sevenfold would also have been considered industry veterans at this point in their careers, if this were 20 or 30 years ago.

4) In a twist of irony, the best new rock music is actually coming from the favorite bands of the 70s and 80s, who like their fans, refuse to call it quits. Metallica’s Hardwired to Self Destruct from 2016 stands up among their earlier thrash masterpieces from the 80s. Judas Priest’s Firepower from 2018 is like a modern Painkiller. Ozzy’s Ordinary Man that came out just last year is extremely soulful and from the heart, being not a planned album but music he originally wrote to get through his recuperation process. The themes are akin to 70s Sabbath (even a harmonica in there), but the guitar sounds are quite unique compared to his other solo albums, thanks to guitarist Andrew Watt, the Post Malone producer.

I think part of the reason these old rockers still produce such meaningful music is that they accept and embrace their age, without letting it make them any less metal (Metallica still kick ass live, though they’ve long since abandoned the rock god persona they had during Black era). Then of course, on the other hand, we got AC/DC, who somehow are still making records that (nearly) sound like they could have been released in the 70s. Positively black magic.

5) Know Thy Audience. I love turning up the local rock radio station when I’m behind the wheel. All they ever play are hits from the 70s and 80s, maybe some early 90s if you’re lucky. And I’m not complaining one bit. Sometimes it’s a familiar favorite I get excited to hear was selected by a human being (auto-generated a.i. algorithms will never generate that feeling), and other times it’s an instant favorite I’ve never heard before, helping me find gaps in music I’ve (not) heard from then. A lot of people complain that new music never gets a chance on radio anymore, but I say it’s basic economics. Stations are going to play what people want to hear, and it’s pretty clear which music most if not all rock fans are going to enjoy, regardless if you were there then or not. Even among younger fans, the preference skews to the older stuff.

6) Rock in Popular Culture. It does still pop up, but while 10 years ago it may have been in Guitar Hero games targeted towards youth, now rockstars are depicted as aging bygones, just look at Keanu Reeve’s character in Cyberpunk 2077 (or the Bill and Ted reboot/sequel). If I hear a rock song in a commercial, it’s probably an ad aimed at those in retirement age like for arthritis medication or something.

TL;DR young rock fans are now the minority. When the Boomers are gone, and finally Gen X too, the genre will likely be completely dead. I wouldn’t say it’s dead yet, but it’s definitely on life support, with good new bands usually being buried deep underground and difficult to discover amidst the thousands of others who upload their bedroom music online.

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